What is the GED&Reg;?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

GED® stands for General Education Development, and is a battery of five tests that when passed stand as equivalent to a high school diploma. It is often referred to as the General Education Diploma, or the General Education Degree, as in the sentence, “I got my GED.” This is inaccurate. The GED® is not only testing but a program that offers teaching and preparation for those who did not finish high school.

The GED is a series of five tests that are equivalent to a high school diploma when passed.
The GED is a series of five tests that are equivalent to a high school diploma when passed.

The GED® program was first started for members of the military who after serving during WWII, had not obtained a high school diploma, making it more challenging to find work. The American Council on Education (ACE) started to offer the tests and education to civilians in 1947, and now most people who take the GED® tests are civilians. Preparation for the GED® is usually done through adult education classes that are freely offered. There are some private programs that offer GED® prep, but taking classes prior to the test is usually not a prerequisite.

Most questions on the GED are multiple choice.
Most questions on the GED are multiple choice.

Some testing locations require taking a pretest prior to taking the GED® test. You can visit the online GED® site to get information about testing locations in your area. You will need to be at least 16 years old, to register in advance for tests, and to bring photo identification with you. If you haven’t taken adult education classes to prepare for the GED®, it’s highly recommended that you purchase or borrow a few books from the library and try out sample tests. You will need to pay fees for testing, which may vary depending on the location. Some testing locations allow you to take different sections of the test at different times, while others administer all sections of the test on the same day.

Adult education classes are usually offered free of charge.
Adult education classes are usually offered free of charge.

There are five areas or sections of the GED® test. These are:

  • Language Arts, Writing
  • Language Arts, Reading
  • Social Studies
  • Science
  • Mathematics

Language Arts, Writing on the GED® is split into two sections. The first section evaluates knowledge of grammar, requiring the students to edit text. The second section is a written essay based on a prompt that is usually general enough to appeal to all students. Language Arts, Reading evaluates reading comprehension and interpretation with samples of fiction and nonfiction text followed by multiple choice answers.

The Social Studies section tests on American history, government, economics, and geography. Multiple-choice questions follow short text passages taken from different materials like the Declaration of Independence or instructions for filling out tax forms. Students need to be familiar with graphs and charts.

The Science section relies on some graphs and charting and requires familiarity with life science, earth science, physical science and astronomy. Mathematics tests proficiency in number operations, measurement and geometry, probability and statistics, and basic algebraic concepts.

Passing the test means scoring higher than 40% of graduating high school seniors. When the test is passed, a person is awarded a GED® credential, which is the equivalent of a high school diploma. Test takers may also have help in taking the test if they have identified physical disabilities or learning disabilities. They may be eligible for extra time, scribes to write down their answers, or Braille versions of the test. If the test is not passed on the first try, it can be re-taken. The GED® tests can be taken up to three times during a year-long period.

Braille versions of the GED are available for blind test-takers.
Braille versions of the GED are available for blind test-takers.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


What is difference between a ged and a military ged?

Some employers will not accept the military ged. why?


Can a dialysis technician training school issue a GED too?


Additional information: The GED exams are available in Spanish and in French, as well as in English.

A significant difference between the GED and most high school diplomas: whereas the traditional school system testing has emphasized facts and knowledge, the GED emphasizes what the student can do with information presented.

For example, the GED candidate is not likely to be asked for specific historical dates, chemical formulas, or a comparison of two authors; he or she should expect to be presented with maps, charts, graphs, and reading passages, and asked to answer questions that show the ability to use, analyze, evaluate, and extrapolate from the information.

(I have been a GED instructor for about four years.)

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